Quotas, democracy, and women in leadership

Guest: Sandra Pepera
Sandra Pepera is a Ghanaian woman raised in Britain by parents who were deeply committed to girls' education. No stranger to the experience of being a minority in the room, Sandra is a campaigner at heart and has dedicated her life to equity and justice work. Today, she is a renowned an expert in international development, democracy, and gender equity. The Director for Gender, Women, and Democracy at the National Democratic Institute in Washington D.C., she works tirelessly to help women overcome barriers to their equal and active political participation all over the world. We're talking tokenism, quotas, politics, as well as how to engage our sons in issues of gender equity. Typically constrained by professionalism and diplomacy, we're excited to share Sandra's story completely unleashed.
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Sandra Pepera Transcript

Sabrina Merage Naim
From Evoke Media, I'm Sabrina Merage Naim, w me is Kassia Binkowski, and this is Breaking Glass - a series of conversations with women around the world who are shattering glass ceilings and challenging social norms. They are audacious, gutsy, and their stories are echoed across borders and generations in a rallying cry that is changing the narrative for women everywhere. Today's conversation is with Sandra Pepera, an expert in international development, democracy and gender equity. Sandra is the director for Gender, Women and Democracy at the National Democratic Institute in Washington DC. She works to support women to overcome the barriers to their equal and active political participation around the world.

Kassia Binkowski
Sabrina, Sandra's work in equity runs much deeper than these professional accolades. Her parents were born in Ghana before following her father's career as a diplomat to France, and ultimately settling in the United Kingdom. She reflects on her family's deliberate choice to invest in access to education and opportunity for girls, as well as her own experience as a black woman and single mother, and how both have informed her career in international development.

Sabrina Merage Naim
And I love how completely unleashed Sandra was with us today. It's a very global conversation. We're talking tokenism, quotas, politics, and how to engage more men in issues of gender equity. Take a listen. Sandra, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

Sandra Pepera
Well, thank you to you both. I'm really excited. And not often that I get asked not to prepare before being interviewed.

Sabrina Merage Naim
It is our style.

Sandra Pepera
Absolutely. Let's go.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yeah, so before we jump in, where are you based right now? Right now I'm sitting in Washington, DC, and I've been here for the last nearly seven years now in my current role as director of Gender, Women and Democracy at the National Democratic Institute.

Sandra Pepera
But that's not where you're originally from. Your accent says differently. Yeah, no, but the accent can lie. You know. The accent is only a part of the whole story. My parents, I like to call them gold coasters. They were from Ghana, originally, but very much in that generation that came through the independence movement with Kwame Nkrumah. I have political legacy on both sides of Ghana's basically two party system, my mother's family all on the sort of liberal side and my father's family with Nkrumah and socialists. So that was, that's really my heritage.

Sabrina Merage Naim
And how did they get along?

Kassia Binkowski
I was gonna say, how did bad marriage come about?

Sandra Pepera
I think it's that thing about being, everybody was bound in the movement for independence. And actually, if you go back to Ghana's independence movement, it was a cross party movement, it was a multi party movement. And then, as it turned out, Nkrumah because he was that charismatic person, and he had, you know, the people with him, and he became the first prime minister of Ghana, and then eventually the president, and eventually the ex-president, because he was unseated in a coup in 1966. But really through those first years, from the end of the Second World War through to independence, it was a very multiparty kind of independence movement, as most independence movements were. And then of course, once you've got independence, now you fight for power like everybody else.

Sabrina Merage Naim
And were you born in Ghana, or were you born in the UK?

Sandra Pepera
More accidents of history. My father happened to be gone as ambassador to France. And I always say my mother didn't feel like she was going to be able to give birth in French. So she hopped the channel and went to London. And I was born there. And I say this, I think with some accuracy, because when my sister was born two and a half years later, she was born in Paris. And my mother was a linguist. I mean, she was one of those people. She hears the language and she can pretty much speak it almost instantly, she can get in there. And anyway, series of other things happened. In the end, my parents divorced and my mother settled in the UK. And from then on, I was schooled and raised in the UK. Yeah.

Kassia Binkowski
So let's talk about school. And I understand that you're second generation un your family with access to education. And we've had so many guests on the show who have reflected on how transformative it was for their parents to value girls education, and to invest in that and prioritize that. Who was that in your family? Who really set the tone and prioritized access to education for girls in your family?

Sandra Pepera
I think it's my grandfather. You know, my mother's father, because he was a District Commissioner, we have this great photograph of him, you know, looking like a British country gentleman with a long barreled rifle and sort of the soft hat and the jacket and everything in the tropics of all places. But anyway, he saw to it that his daughters, and he had many daughters because he was polygamous. He's saw to it that his daughters went to school and insisted that they went to school. So you know, my mother was born in 1928. I mean, we're talking about a man who was farsighted way back then. And so that set the tone and girls from then on have been educated. Notwithstanding the fact that my grandmother, his wife, was, you know, I call it stone cold illiterate. I mean, in those days, she was married at 16. She was beautiful and bountiful. But she had no literacy at all. And he was still determined that his daughters would go to school. And so both my aunt and my mother, finished school, my aunt actually went on to university. And my mother sort of went in and out of thinking that she was going to do more schooling, I think she always knew she could. I remember when I was very young, she was studying law as a mature student in London for a while. But I think she was much more a community worker. And I think she just felt a constant pull between being formally more educated for a profession and doing what she was called, was kind of you know, her office was her kitchen. And everybody came to the kitchen with all sorts of problems and issues, and she was there and supporting them and helping them and sometimes just laughing at them for their absurdities.

Sabrina Merage Naim
So this is interesting to me. It's a bit reminiscent of another guest that we recently had. Her name is Aminata Conteh Biger. And she's from Sierra Leone, and her father was also polygamous, and she came from a family where the father really prioritized education for the girls and his wives were not educated, your grandmother was not educated. And what comes up for me is, what was the impetus for your grandfather to place such an importance of education on his daughters and granddaughters given that that was not the reality of his own family and his generation? I would love to think that it was an understanding of feminist values back then. But do you believe maybe it was more a pride of your family lineage? Is that where it comes from?

Sandra Pepera
I think it was, because also, you know, my lineage is Ashanti. So we were right in the middle of a country. And the issue is, of course, those who met the British and the Dutch and the Portuguese and the Swedes first on the coast were educated boys and girls for many more generations than those in the interior. So I think my grandfather, who was a District Commissioner traveled the whole of Gold Coast with the work that he did. He just kind of saw that actually, other places had better educated populations. And I think he just said, "Okay, I've got many children. So we're going to educate this lot, because this is how this community, this is how Ashanti moves forward with a deeper base of educated people". And I think that the amazing thing is, as you said, that he did not discount his daughters from that. He counted them in.

Sabrina Merage Naim
And just to highlight what you said, which is the important thing for him was coming out of the shell of where he was living kind of the bubble of where he grew up and seeing outside worlds and, wow, how that opens your eyes. Right?

Sandra Pepera
Absolutely. You know, and I don't believe he ever left the shores of Ghana, but he was very well traveled within it. And he knew a lot of people up and down the country. And I think he just had a broader perspective on his role in the world, really, I suppose.

Kassia Binkowski
I'm curious, did that translate across the next generations? I mean, with your parents' move to France and ultimately, your mother's move to England, was gender equity valued just as deeply in that generation?

Sandra Pepera
You know, I don't know whether you see... my children are always sending me memes of myself as sort of the architect called stereotypical West African Mother, you know, and I would say that boys had a hard time in our family. I mean, the women were strong and fierce. And, you know, boys and men were A) few and far between at some level. And they had to catch up. I mean, oh they had to keep up. It was, yeah, all these households were very, very firmly run by the women and my aunt in particular, and my mother to some extent with the kids that came through London. My aunt in particular, actually ended up even raising a lot of her brother's children. You know, many of her brother's children came through her household. Because their wives weren't necessarily doing what the ambition for the family was with regards to the children. So yeah, we were very, very female dominated and female headed and female run. And as I said, my kids every now and again, they'll send me a thing just to kind of remind me.

Sabrina Merage Naim
I kind of love that, though, because the boys need to kind of, from an early age, be formed. Early on, right? To understand how to deal with strong and fierce women.

Sandra Pepera
It doesn't work that way, though.

Sabrina Merage Naim
No?

Sandra Pepera
It doesn't, it can actually almost make them more transgender and recalcitrant around the issues of equality and equity. And, you know, I remember one cousin in particular, arrived in our household. He, brilliant man, got some scholarship to do his PhD in France, linguist and all this stuff. And he arrived in our household for summer in London, with his French wife, and European French wife at that. He was, I suppose he was just treating her badly. And so I sort of told him about it. And two things happened that were really quite shocking to me. First of all, he didn't seem to think he was treating her badly and disrespecting her and being generally rude and obnoxious. And then second of all, my mother said to me, "no, no, no, you can't say that to your big brother". And I'm saying, like, "seriously, what? What's going on here?" I said, "We don't allow this behavior in this household. Nobody behaves like this towards women in this household. So why are you letting him come here and behave like this to his girlfriend, who's now in our household?" And she was, you know, completely confused, of course, because she had this thing about, well, men had to be at some level respected and given that, right? But you know, he was some upstart, and I think I was 13 or something. And he was 20 something. Some upstart, 13 year old saying, like, we've got to protect this girl, this woman doesn't know which way is up as far as I was concerned in terms of her relationship with him. Her boyfriend, then her husband, for many years, and yeah, so it was interesting when that happened.

Kassia Binkowski
Yeah, I mean, I'm one of five girls, and we have one brother in the family. And there's a lot of jokes about how indebted he is to us for, you know, steering him the right ways. And making sure he dresses well and making sure he's not unnerved by things like tampons, and periods. I'm like, we broke all of that, like your wife, your wife actually owes us a debt of gratitude. You know?

Sandra Pepera
I like to think I raised a feminist son, I do have, my first child is a boy. I like to think I raised a feminist son,

Kassia Binkowski
How? Tell us all the things because we would like to raise feminist sons.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Tell us the secrets.

Sandra Pepera
I think it's exactly what you're talking about is just there should be no conversations that are off limits, there should be no expectation, you know, if there's washing up to be done, he does it, we do it, you know, whatever it is. And then it's not that, you know, he gets to do the manly stuff, like learn to drive and the girls have to, you know, everybody does everything at the same time and the expectations are set for everybody. And then I think there's something about learning how to listen to people or you know, because it was a largely female household. There's a lot of talking and a lot of listening going on. So my son has a lot of women, young women as friends, and they'll go to him, and they'll talk to him because he knows how to talk to them. And he knows how to support them, and so forth and so on. So we'll see. But I have to tell you this story, one of my girlfriends, I was waxing lyrical, as I've just done, about my son. And one of my girlfriends looked at me, and she said, Sandra, every boss that's got a mother who loves him. And so every now and again, kind of just, check it.

Sabrina Merage Naim
I'm hearing that your grandfather had a tremendous amount of influence on the trajectory of your life, your mother, similarly, the strong women in your family, and even from the young age of 13, you were giving your older brother a hard time about how he was treating women. So when the gender equity become the issue, you were going to stake your career on?

Sandra Pepera
Literally, in 2014, when I started this job. Equity and injustice has just been my life. And I've never thought about it in gender, non gender, race, non race, it's just the way we were raised in some ways. And I think, you know, I've taken it to a sort of a certain level because of the work I've done, and so forth. But this is the first time I've ever had, if you like a specific tasking around gender and women. So it's been interesting to me, to really have to pick up a lot more of the sort of the theoretical framing of it, and particularly where we're doing development work and devote, well designing development programs and interventions, you need to know more and be more intentional about the structures, that you are addressing, the changes that you're trying to achieve. And the women that you're trying to work with. So you need to have a deeper kind of lens on those issues around gender and patriarchy, masculinities and all those sorts of issues. But it's been my life throughout I mean, I care about these things. I'm a campaigner, I suppose at heart I am a campaigner.

Kassia Binkowski
Yeah. I'm curious how your experience as a single mother and your experience as a black woman in a predominantly white, UK? How did those inform the lens through which you approached equity work? How did it kind of shape and inspire that career path?

Sandra Pepera
Look, I'm a hugely privileged black female from United Kingdom, you know, my family was solidly middle class, I had access to really the best of education and so forth. So my experience is a no way typical. But it does give you a certain sort of lens on how how structures of institutionalized racism do work. And some of the sort of the careless everyday racism, everyday sexism, you know, if you're black and female, at the time that I was coming up, a lot of my tutors were saying, "Oh, Casandra, you know, you're black and female, you're going to break through because this is the time, we need things like that". And at the same time, I was thinking, "Oh, I'm black and female". And so, you know, I could see sort of microaggressions, waves of them coming at me all the time. But I guess we had thicker skins? I didn't know. You know, just bloody mindedness. Bloody mindedness, you just think? No, you know, they're not gonna get me down, because actually, a couple of things. Somebody once told me and I use it often, when I'm talking to young women, I say, you know, I've always felt that gender equality, I will have reached it, when I can be as equally mediocre as some of my male colleagues. I mean, seriously, like, you know, as women, professional women, I mean, you know what I'm talking about. And then as women of color, you just, it's another layer of professionalism. I try not to be late for things and I remember going to a meeting which habitually starts late and one of my male white colleagues said me, "Sandra keeps turning up early to these meetings". And I had to say to him, nobody's ever given me permission to be late. That's the reality of it. That is reality of it. So you find your coping strategies and you exhibit to the extent possible, hyper levels of professionalism and integrity, you know, you do not get caught, if you're like breaking some ethical rule because whilst, as we now know, many men are serial rule breakers across a whole spectrum of rules, if you're black and female, break it once, and you're out. I mean, that's the reality of it. So I think you just learn to tread a path that is always conscious, you know, always woke if you like, about where the pitfalls may come,

Kassia Binkowski
You have sat in so many different positions now, for more than 40 years, from academia to research to international development, NGOs. I want to hear from you. What do you believe the relationship to be between gender equity and the health of a democracy?

Sandra Pepera
Look, at its base democracy is about participation. And if you're not allowing people to participate, you haven't got a democracy. I mean, that's the basic level. But we need to understand that it's more than just the numbers, it's more than just having, you know, 60% of your Parliament being female in Rwanda. What does that tell us, really? Or, you know, when you look at the ranks of women parliamentarians, it's only one measure of women's political participation, but it's the most tangible at some level. Something like of the of the top ten, seven countries are ones with what we would call questionable democratic credentials. You know, it is Bolivia, Rwanda, and Cuba's up there, all these. And you've got to say, okay, so they've got the women, but what are they doing? Because the democracy itself is flawed. The democracy itself is flawed. So the numbers are there, but what is their participation? What is their influence? What are they actually able to do authentically and in their own autonomy with regards to representing their constituents, and the interests of the people that have elected them there. So, it is absolutely essential that women and all other marginalized groups are able to be equal and active partners in a democracy. And I always say, you know, if you brace the space open for women, because they are 50%. They are 50% of every marginalized group as well. You know, they're 50% of the youth and of the ethnic and racial minorities and other people living with disabilities, and of all people and of sexual minority. I mean, they are 50% of a lot. You know, it not for nothing that the the first Women's March here in the United States in January 2017, was not only the single biggest Women's March, but it was the single biggest Disability Rights March as well. That's what you get. When you think about overcoming the barriers to the full participation of women. Pretty much everybody else comes in behind.

Kassia Binkowski
That's fascinating. And I'm not sure I ever thought about it that way. But it makes so much sense that kind of breaking that gender equity barrier, all of a sudden shatters all of these other barriers as well.

Sabrina Merage Naim
I want to, I want to jump into understanding more what changes in addition to this, I think that's a really Golden Nugget that we could even excavate so much more, what changes when more women participate? But before we do for our listeners, to understand more about your role, you are the director for Gender, Women and Democracy at the National Democratic Institute. What does that entail?

Sandra Pepera
So the National Democratic Institute is a development organization that focuses on democracy consolidation. So we have offices in about 60 countries in every region of the world. And my role is to try and ensure that whatever programs we are implementing in any of these countries are appropriately gender informed. And we implement programs from election support through to supporting for example, Disability Rights Organizations achieve better laws for themselves or better administrative structures so forth. We do work with Parliaments to help them get more quotas, whatever it is, whatever it is in the democratic space, the program needs to be gender informed. So I always say that I envy some of my colleagues who are in women's rights organizations. I'm the leader of the women's rights unit, within a firmly heterosexual and frankly, male dominated organization. So our role is one of a constant process of change and change management. Because to achieve our objective, and get out of the building, we have to influence our colleagues who are actually designing the programs, implementing the programs and running those programs in those countries around the world. So that's, that's what I do. And it means, you know, we're alongside the teams when they're writing their proposals. Sometimes I have to go out and do a panel or an evaluation, my colleagues sometimes go out and run gender missions and gender audits. So it's that full kind of range of support behind our in country programs. That's my first responsibility. And that's what I and my team spent most of our time doing.

Kassia Binkowski
So if you can, or as much as you're willing to tell us the dirty secrets, I mean, what has it been like being the you know, as you said, the head of the women's rights unit, within this male dominated organization that has a much broader focus than anything gender specific? What has that been like for you, as a leader in that position? What barriers have you faced? Tell us tell us everything.

Sandra Pepera
Well, it's always interesting to arrive into an organization and a leadership that has been very established, long established leadership, many of my colleagues have been with the organization multiple decades together. And so not only are you perhaps bringing a new perspective on something that they have been doing for a while, but you're also a new and very different voice in quite a close circle of people. So first of all, you've got to try and establish yourself in this, you know, in this new circle, and I am probably by nature, you know, a member of the awkward squad, so, I don't always take prisoners, you know, when I'm kind of moving into something. But at the same time, I, you know, I reckon that look, you know, you're a director, I'm a director, so like, actually, we are peers, if not equals. So it's interesting, because you have to kind of work that through. And it's been bumpy, frankly, along the way, there have been many moments when I'm thinking, "What on earth am I doing here?" But then other moments where you just think, gosh, this is such a platform, for change, and for really establishing a strong practice around gender and inclusion. And then there's a whole thing about being British and coming to America. And it's who said that, you know, the British and the Americans are different people separated by the same language, or is it the same people separated by differences? You know, whatever it is, yeah. But, you know, when I first arrived, you know, I would have a conversation with a colleague. And I'd walk away. And then I think, no, no, no, no, we weren't having the same conversation, or at least you have to go back to them and say, okay, when I said this, I meant this. When you said that, what, what? What did you mean? Just checking, because I think, you know, being British, we tend to say a lot in silence, actually, there's a lot said in the silences in the way the British speak. And as Americans, you say everything.

Sabrina Merage Naim
For better or worse.

Kassia Binkowski
I was gonna say,

Sabrina Merage Naim
I'm sorry, I'm sorry about that.

Sandra Pepera
Sometimes it's a lot. So those sorts of adjustments are challenging for people. I think sometimes, as I said, I was already a senior person. I had been a senior before I got to NDI, which is different from a lot of my colleagues who have become senior through their position at NDI. Black and female, I'm British, and then I have perhaps a radical agenda for the Gender and Women's Work that NDI does.

Kassia Binkowski
Which is what? I mean, what are your goals? What is that radical agenda?

Sandra Pepera
Oh, if you go on my Twitter pages there, I'm trying to work myself towards redundancy, you know, in my sort of dream, there would not be a Gender, Women, and Democracy team, because the institute would be doing this. This would I mean, you wouldn't need a whole team you might need a couple of people to occasionally you know, do a literature review about the latest on digital access for women or something. But you wouldn't need a whole team because you would have infused and infected the whole institute with the perspective of Gender, Women, aned Democracy. That's, that's our goal is to work ourselves towards redundancy. And it would be, and it's not going to happen anytime soon. But that should be what we're doing. I mean, we should be doing that with development work anyway, the goal must be self sustaining and the ability for developing economies, young organizations, to young institutions to stand on their own. That is the goal of development.

Sabrina Merage Naim
I want to understand a little bit more from the work that you have been doing, you're seeing firsthand what really changes when more women are participating. Can you give us some examples? One of the ones that recently came to us in an interesting conversation with Michela Bedard, who is the director of period movement, and she talked about the subtle but significant changes when more menstruators are in positions of power, even just their physical needs, as women can shift the decisions they make and the policies that that they support. So you've had a much more global career to and you have witnessed this across countries and cultures? What are the changes that you are seeing in societies that fully embrace women's participation? Or that are, I would say, more advanced in embracing women's participation?

Sandra Pepera
Well, I think that, you know, the fact is that women do lead differently. We have different leadership style. And, you know, right now, there's all this jazz about, you know, the seven best COVID countries in the world or whatever, all led by women. Well, yes, I think that the challenge with that kind of a headline is the kind of the exceptionalism that we are granting these women, and I'm not sure...I'm sure they are exceptional women, but they are also in systems that have allowed certain and enabled certain forward movements and certain progressions for them. So we should shift our focus more on you know, what is it about x country that has allowed this woman to come through? What is it about New Zealand? Or what is it about? Where's the youngest Prime Minister? Is it Finland? You know, so, you know, what is it about those countries and the formal and informal rules around gender and power that have allowed these women to come through with that?

Kassia Binkowski
That's amazing. And honestly, I think we've seen the headlines so many times and haven't heard, and maybe I just, you know, didn't dig deep enough, but never thought of it that way. Never. That's an amazing perspective.

Sandra Pepera
Yeah, you know, globally, if you look at it, there's this publication, Women in Business and Law, it used to be better, it's not so good now, but I used to love it. But every now and again, you get this... it's by the World Bank... you get this nugget and last year's Women Business and Law report reported that women only have access to 75% of the legal rights that men do, globally, in the world today, this is still an issue. But at the same time, a couple of reports back, it did an analysis that said basically, in those systems where women have greater autonomy in their personal and sort of citizenship spaces, you are more likely to get them moving into politics, and you're more likely to get a more inclusive political system. So that's the sort of analysis we need to understand, what are the underpinning enabling structures or environments, institutions, processes that will allow women to move forward through politics in ways that make them not the exception, but just in a common place? It is the case that in Iceland, they've had you know, now, like, for the last 25 years or something, they've had a lot of women prime ministers and presidents. And I know that the the anecdote is that one of the prime ministers asked her grandson, you know, what do you want to be? And he said, I don't know, a bus driver. And she said, Well, why wouldn't you want to be, you know, Prime Minister? And he's said, well only women do that job, and that sort of whole, that whole sort of thing you're looking at. So I think that there is something about the way women lead, you know, even the Harvard Business Review that bastion of feminist radicalism has said that women have more and deeper leadership qualities than than men do, the most important ones women score higher on but it is still the case that politics in particular, is that you know, a temple to masculinities And we have to address those masculinities. And I think one of the other things that I'm inspired by, encouraged by, is what I call the the men's wing of the feminist movement. And, you know, it's not sort of just, you know, he for she stuff. It's people and men who are systematically and deliberately deciding to acknowledge their privilege and power, and either set it aside, or use it in order to provide space for women to move through, in an accountable way to women. So you know, they're not sort of taking over the responsibility. They're not acting for the women, they're creating the space, which they were taking up by the way to get allow the women to come through in their own voice. And I think that's encouraging, too.

Sabrina Merage Naim
We had a guest, his name is Jeffrey Tobias Halter, who created a whole new career based on gender equity in corporate America. And he talks about how men are not going to become feminists, they're not going to become true advocates for feminism and gender equity, just because it's the right thing to do. It needs to be personal to them. What are you seeing in the work in this kind of the male wing of feminism? What is bringing them to that? Why do they care?

Sandra Pepera
Because it is personal to them, because a lot of them have actually arrived at that, you know, that train station that says, "Okay, this is my experience, and I have to address this experience", some of them because of their backgrounds, and because of their families, and others, because they go through a process that actually brings them to a new realization, we've been developing an approach on manpower and politics, which is based on experiential learning. So first of all, you know, you have to hold up the mirror and say, you know, take a really good look at this picture. And you know, the number of male and many places, male and white faces, and in many places, male, white and old faces, because, you know, 75% of the world's parliamentarians are male, of which over 60% of them are over 60, or something. I mean, it's ridiculous. Bringing women in can set off a virtuous cycle of change. But it has to be done thoughtfully and intentionally. And understanding some of the ways in which the patriarchy actually does fight back. It is endlessly able to reinvent itself. And we need to be careful about that.

Kassia Binkowski
What are the ways I mean, I'm curious to hear you reflect on how we create systems and space for women to lead as women. You know, you've said a couple of times, it doesn't help that we're just you know, that the numbers increase. That's not enough. You have to show up and play the men's game and to lead like men isn't going to change anything. So how do we create cultures in which women can really lean into the empathy and the collaboration and the things that differentiate their leadership style, the things that make their leadership style unique as women? How do we create that space for the change to happen?

Sandra Pepera
Well, research tells us that you do have to start off with numbers, you know, having a sort of a small minority of women is just not gonna do it. And then having, like a fake majority of women, doesn't do it anyway. But you do have to get to a subtle, certain critical mass before the point, I think Sabrina made it before people do change things like how many bathrooms there are for women on the floor. And whether or not Parliament meets or Congress meets at a certain time, I always, you know, quote, the fact that it wasn't until you know, Tony Blair in 1997, that 500 years of British parliamentary history shifted. And instead of starting at two o'clock in the afternoon, and running through to midnight and beyond, if they needed to because they were all men that were drinking houses, and they had their boarding houses nearby. They shifted to more a more rational kind of working day for the parliamentarians starting earlier in the day. Now, this was good for women, but it was also good for the men. You know, that's the other thing about gender equality, it's not only good for women, it actually removes harmful gender norms for both genders are not I mean, all genders. So I think those sorts of issues are important, but you do have to have, first of all the numbers, critical mass, and then the advocacy and the campaigning drivers behind those institutional changes.

Kassia Binkowski
So I want to circle back on something you said about, you know, needing the critical mass at the table for anything to change. And we've been having a lot of conversations both internally and with past guests about the tension between tokenism, which, you know, most of us agree we want to avoid, and the need for quotas to kind of get, you know, be a kick in the pants for the system to progress. I have to imagine and this is a huge assumption on my part, that as a black woman in the professional spheres where you're playing you may have experienced this personally, the sense of tokenism. What has been your experience there? Have you struggled with that yourself? What does that look like for you?

Sandra Pepera
I know, the times when people are just sort of trying to, you know, add me to some diverse array sort of thing and, okay, you can add me, but I'm gonna use my space. You know, don't put me there if you don't expect me to be me, when I get there, I'm, you know, I'm just not going to be that person. So I think, you know, my own experience of tokenism is, okay, you think I'm a token, now watch what I'm gonna do with this opportunity. And that's what I tend to do with it. But I do want to just, I do want to just put a pin in it because now as a black woman who has experienced tokenism, it's galling to me to be told that we can't have all female panels, there has to be one man on it. And, you know, now I'm being asked to tokenize somebody else. Let alone the thinking behind it being completely wrong, there are still more than enough all male panels out there for us, you know, models or new models to fight against. Secondly, the United Nations has agreed and that means the global community has agreed that affirmative action to redress a historical wrong is never discriminatory. So I'm not discriminating against the man if I don't put him on my panel. And thirdly, there are moments in time, and I think this is one, where actually we are called upon, called upon to give women more space. The COVID-19 thing is devastating to women. I'm told that the number of of peer reviewed articles submitted by women has dropped by 60%. So you know, in a situation whereby, generally women are invisible in academic research and stuff, unless women write about them, now, you've got fewer women actually able to write about them. So this is the time, this is the time when you should actually be pulling women forward and overpopulating your panels and your forums with women, because they're not getting through in the other way, because they are raising children or schooling children or looking after elder parents or whatever it is, they're in lockdown. So I think, you know, people have to think about this thing differently and understand the depth of the structural inequality that keeps women in a certain place and how that can be reinforced by some shocks to the system, of which the pandemic is one.

Sabrina Merage Naim
You addressed tokenism. And I love that answer, if you're going to tokenize me watch what I'm gonna do with it. But the other the other kind of topic that Kassia brought up was the issue of quotas. And I'd love to hear your thoughts on this because we have spoken a lot about it. And we have guests who have said quotas work. There are recent articles that say quotas do not work. Hollywood is now starting to impose quotas. There are companies, you know, in corporate America that are starting to impose quotas.

Kassia Binkowski
Can I interject, Sabrina? Because our audience can't see Sandra's face right now. But we're getting like all the expressions. There's eye rolling, there's hand gesturing, like she is ready.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yes, yeah. So you clearly have some strong opinions about this. And I would love to know what they are.

Sandra Pepera
Quotas are absolutely essential to get to the first step, as I said earlier on, which is numbers. You know, most places, I think there are probably 80 jurisdictions around the world where you've got some kind of quota for women, either through a party quota on electoral quota or an actual quota for the legislature. So you've got quotas implemented, many of them don't even make their own numerical target, number one. They are called temporary special measures. And yet, we haven't seen a single quota being sunset, number two. So they're failing on their face, they're not actually doing what we want them to do, which is kickstarting a self sustaining dynamic of woman's ability to run and lead and compete for political power. And I'm only talking about the political realm. Okay? So it's another one of those situations where if you put the quarter up there without the, if you like supporting mechanisms, you end up with a number of things happening. First of all, maybe you don't even make the quota number. Second of all, the quota becomes a ceiling, as opposed to a platform. You know, so, you know, I know some chambers around the world where, you know, people say, yeah, we've got a quota, and we fill it up to 30%. But the, the subtext is, women can only have that 30%. And they should only compete in that space. So there are lots of things that we need to do to, to tidy up quotas. And I think it's so yes, I give a qualified response to that. I see them as absolutely necessary to get over that first hurdle, which is the numbers. But they're not sufficient in themselves to ensure women's political empowerment. And, and that's, that's the issue.

Sabrina Merage Naim
I want to just commend you for articulating this in a way that made me suddenly feel like, I understand it better.

Kassia Binkowski
Yeah. Like, Oh, yeah!

Sabrina Merage Naim
Because Kassia and I have gone back and forth. And we're like, yes, we understand the need, but you know, there's some, there's something about it, that just doesn't sit right. What is that? Why do we feel like it's so controversial? Why do we feel like it's just not hitting all the way there? And the people that we've spoken to have not been able to fully articulate it in that way. And I think that you have just painted the picture, in a way that I feel so much more comfortable with. That, yes, quotas are the the kickstart. It is not the be all end all of what we're doing. You already alluded earlier on in this conversation that the numbers are not the only thing that there are countries that their Parliaments have, you know, a significant more amount of women, and that does not necessarily mean that they are doing better in all of the other facets of gender equity in their society. I think that that's really important. And so my question then ends up, how do we, you know, yes, we need to kind of put sunset clauses, we need to see a quota as the first step, how do we ensure that it just doesn't stop there? What is the next thing that needs to be put in place?

Sandra Pepera
When we think about our theory of change around women's political empowerment, we work on three levels. Okay, so I'm going to pick up Sabrina, I'm going to train you to the nth degree on how to become a political candidate, how to speak how to raise money, how to mitigate your risks, and do so safely, how to develop policies, you know, so that's the individual level, first of all focus in on the woman. Now, frankly, women don't need any more training. You know, I'm done with training women, I just say like, Okay, seriously. There's enough. We know what... women know what to do. Then you have to look at the institutional piece. Now we're looking at laws and political parties and processes, are those processes Parliaments? Are those processes and spaces supportive of a more inclusive population coming through? And again, as I said, if you look at those processes, with women in mind, you're also going to be focused on other marginalized groups, you know, the issues around access to polling stations on voters day for women in some countries are exactly the same as for disabled people, you know, the polling stations are in places that are too hot, they don't have proper paving, women have to go there with their children and somebody disabled may have to come with somebody helping them. So if you're looking at those spaces, if you look at it through a gender lens, you actually are in some cases, also looking at it at a wider population lens. So we look at the institutions, but the third piece, and this is where you know, the the male, the men's wing of the feminist movement comes in. The third piece of this shift of social cultural norms. And to actually get to a place where the women's leadership is neither questioned, ridiculed, undermined downplayed in society because all these institutions and the women themselves, their products of society. You know, we can't, you know, a political party will have the same gender norms as a society at large. I'm always told, well, women won't vote for other women. Well, why would they? The whole society says women shouldn't be in leadership. So why should women think differently from what their whole society is telling them all the time? That social cultural piece is that the hardest area but you do have to focus in on it.

Kassia Binkowski
Sandra, you have had an incredibly global life and you're now doing very, very global work on these issues. When you look at gender equity around the world, Are you hopeful?

Sandra Pepera
Yes, I have to be hopeful. Because I have a son. And I think there is something it's not as it's not as uniform. And it's not as sort of Pollyanna-ish as sometimes we say there is something though, about the next generation that has a different perspective on gender. But I'm also very, I'm very energized and encouraged by young women who are not prepared to take a backseat. I think some of the more interesting movements and changemakers around the world are young women. Yeah, so we have to be we have to be hopeful. I mean, the hopeful business.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Breaking Glass is a production of Evoke Media. Evoke is a nonprofit organization that exists in order to elevate the people and stories that are working to make the world a more unified and equitable place. Learn more at weareevokemedia.com

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